The teenager who helped his classmate beat his Spanish teacher to death over a failing grade has been sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 25 years.
At the hearing in Jefferson County, Iowa, prosecutors argued that 18-year-old Jeremy Goodale confessed to killing 66-year-old Nohema Graber and admitted at the time that he had no remorse. Two weeks passed between the time Willard Noble Chaiden Miller, 18, suggested the plot to him and the time they ambushed Graber on their routine walk in Chautauqua Park in the town of Fairfield. Miller wanted revenge on Graber for failing Spanish at Fairfield High School. Goodale, who authorities said did fairly well in the class, agreed to help.
Investigators found the murder weapon, a baseball bat with flames, in Miller’s room, but even after pleading guilty to murder, the defendants disagreed about who committed the actual murder. Goodale told the court he hit her after Miller hit her in the back of the head. However, Miller insisted he was merely acting as a lookout while Goodale beat her.
As prosecutors emphasized Wednesday, Goodale had no motive to kill Graber and acted solely to help Miller. In his own words, Goodale had confessed that he took part because he “didn’t want to seem like an ap-y.”
The lack of a motive “increases the threat” to the community, prosecutors argued.
They argued for a life sentence with the possibility of parole after 25 years.
Miller was sentenced to life in prison in July. Judge Shawn Showers expressed hope that Miller, who was 16 when he committed the crime with co-defendant Jeremey Everett Goodale, would reflect on his actions and grow as a person. Still, he criticized the “arrogance” of the 17-year-old, who claimed he had a higher IQ than most prison staff. Showers suspected that this attitude might be due to his age or Miller’s set personality.
As for Goodale, his defense tried to paint a sympathetic, if troubled, picture. One of his sisters reported an unstable family life that culminated in her mother divorcing her father and bringing a controlling boyfriend into her life. The mother sided with the boyfriend and threw her and another sister out of the house, according to testimony.
A defense forensic psychologist testified that Goodale, who was 16 at the time of the murder, was mentally immature. He highlighted statistics showing that everything from homicides to car accidents are linked to age; The more mature a person’s brain is, the less likely they are to engage in dangerous behavior. Goodale is even more immature than the average 16-year-old, said expert Mark Douglas Cunningham.
He downplayed the two-week period between Miller’s recruitment of Goodale and the time of the actual murder. He interpreted it as a 15-minute plan that was repeated several times over the course of two weeks, and they lacked the perspective to get away with the crime.
In addition to the other family problems, the psychologist also brought up that Goodale’s father was constantly dissatisfied with the defendant’s education or the school administration, opposed vaccinations, was “an anti-woke” and “an opponent of all kinds of things.” Such an attitude suggests, in part, that the “larger community” is not something with which one identifies.
“[The community is] strange and even malevolent,” said psychologist Mark Douglas Cunningham. “It’s an unintended effect in terms of its impact on Jeremy’s social identification and the development of some kind of community morality, but it still has an impact.”
When given the opportunity to speak, Goodale apologized to Graber’s family, adding, “I know my words will never be enough.” He said he did not know how Graber’s killing would affect her relatives, and it he was sorry for not stopping this crime in the first place. Goodale said he never worried about the community or the impact on the school. He apologized to his friends for the “stigma” of knowing him. The prosecution recognized his statement as heartfelt.
In victim impact statements, the family said Graber’s murder likely hastened the death of her ailing husband, Paul Graber, who died of cancer that would have been discovered much sooner had Nohema been there. Paul’s brother Tom Graber questioned Goodale’s expression of remorse and expressed shock at Goodale’s behavior at the time of the crime.
“One of the most shocking aspects of your role in this murder is the nonchalance with which you agreed to take your own life,” he said.
Prosecutors assigned investigators to review the details of the November 2, 2021 crime and the evidence against the defendants.
Another student told investigators that Goodale sent him incriminating images on Snapchat.
“Time to hide a body,” read the caption, which showed a hand grasping a bottle of Clorox.
“POV you’re my Spanish teacher and that’s the last thing you see,” the caption on another read. It depicted a person with a hood and mask.
“No, I’m actually ready to go,” reads another caption. The picture showed someone holding a shovel.
“New wheelbarrow, who is that?” said the caption to a fourth picture.
Shown was the red wheelbarrow that was discovered on Graber.
Goodale and Miller had planned to bury Graber, but the ground was frozen, so they left her under a tarp and the wheelbarrow.
Prosecutors also gathered testimony that the bloody attack was aimed at Fairfield’s “pacifist” community. People were afraid to go out, refused to walk in parks, and were afraid to send their children to school. Even teachers were afraid to teach given the motive behind Graber’s murder.
The judge on Wednesday expressed belief in Goodale’s regret, acknowledged that defendant had no previous convictions and accepted that the defendant’s brain needed further development as a younger person. But although he described him as a candidate for rehabilitation – better than Miller – he pointed out that the murder would not have happened without Goodale’s help.
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